Throughout the history of racing there has been an on again off again infatuation with asphalt racing. Look back over the last 50 years of racing and look at how most tracks were dirt and then became asphalt and then went back to dirt. Fifty years ago takes us to 1965, during those days almost every town would have a local dirt track, my uncle built one in Mountain Grove, Missouri. We raced back then on Friday in Cabool, Saturday at West Plaines, and Sunday at Mountain Grove. Those were all dirt tracks, then along about 1968 West Plaines opened an asphalt track on top of hill which had a steep incline if you went off turns 1 or 2.
In 1969 we all know the legendary I-70 Speedway opened in Odessa, Missouri. Asphalt racing was taking hold. Rolla Speedway opened in 1972 and closed after 1974 but was a 3/8 mile asphalt track that saw the likes of Dick Trickle, Larry Phillips, Rusty Wallace, and Terry Bivins compete. In 1974 the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds Speedway in Springfield Missouri converted from dirt to asphalt and is a place I witnessed one of the greatest races between Phillips and Bivins, 100 laps, sometimes nose to tail, sometimes side by side, no yellow flags, to the finish. And so it was in the 70s asphalt was the place to race and then it died off everything went back to dirt.
In 1980 the famous I-70 Speedway became a dirt track as Greg Weld purchased the track from Bill Roberts. As a dirt track the high banks had a hard time holding the dirt on the top side, but oh there was some great racing at I-70 Speedway as a dirt track. If you were there you cannot forget the rumble in your seat as 30 cars took the green flag for the NDRA Late Models. Sprint Cars and Late Models were some of the best shows on the dirt. Joe Kosiski, 1986 NASCAR Weekly Champion, used races at the dirt covered I-70 Speedway to capture the crown. Lebanon I-44 Speedway opened in 1983 as a dirt track. Bolivar Speedway had been a long time dirt track. Then 1988 hit.
1988 and 1989 were pivotal years in the racing community, asphalt was about to make a comeback, a huge comeback. Riverside Stadium, a ¼ mile dirt track, held competition for the last time in the Kansas City area in 1988. The Ozark Empire Fairgrounds track closed. Lakeside Speedway in Kansas City Kansas was going to the dogs, literally, as 1988 would be its’ last year at 92nd and Leavenworth Road, the next year it would become the Woodlands dog and horse track. I-44 Speedway would open in 1989 as an asphalt track as would Bolivar Speedway. Lakeside Speedway would reopen at its present Wolcott address as a half mile asphalt track. The Roberts family resurrected I-70 Speedway in 1989 as a half mile asphalt track. Asphalt racing was again king for about a decade.
Lakeside Speedway, I-70 Speedway, I-44 Speedway, and Bolivar Speedway were all NASCAR Weekly Racing Series tracks. Larry Phillips would utilize these tracks to claim his five NASCAR National Championship titles. The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series originally designed for NASCAR Weekly tracks made three appearances at the famed high banks of I-70 Speedway. Lakeside Speedway had gone asphalt because they were promised a Busch series race. ARTGO was a series that visited regularly at Lakeside, Bolivar, and I-44 Speedways. ASA was a regular at I-70 Speedway.
Then in 2000 dirt made its’ comeback and reigns supreme to this day. Lakeside Speedway had seen the car counts drop steadily since the flood of 1993. The track seeped moisture. Then General Manager Marc Olson talked then owner Ted Carlson into putting dirt over the asphalt and the track reopened in 2000 as a dirt track. I-44 Speedway covered their asphalt with dirt in 2003. Bolivar Speedway followed suit and ran for a few years as a dirt track and at one point in time tried to run a dirt track and an asphalt track until they closed in 2011. I-70 speedway tried the same business model building a dirt track to go along with the asphalt track. The only asphalt track left is I-44 Speedway who removed their dirt after the 2009 season.
Now before we declare asphalt racing as dead let’s take a look at what these asphalt tracks have meant for people’s careers. I-70 Speedway helped launch the racing careers of Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, Butch Miller, Bob Senneker, Dick Trickle, Mike Eddy, Johnny Benson Jr., Jamie McMurray, Jennifer Jo Cobb, Rick Beebe, and Terry Bivins. Adam Petty, grandson of Richard Petty, once won an ASA race at I-70. Larry Phillips used Lakeside and I-70 Speedways as his home tracks for two of his five national titles. The other three titles he utilized Bolivar and I-44 Speedways. Mike Wallace utilized Bolivar and I-44 Speedways to launch his career. Jamie McMurray was a regular at all four asphalt tracks. Clint Bowyer utilized I-70 Speedway to launch his NASCAR career while competing on the dirt of Lakeside on Friday night. Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Kenny Irwin, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, have all utilized the former asphalt tracks as their launching pad to racing careers.
So I ask, isn’t it time for asphalt to make a comeback? On dirt we still used carburetors, on asphalt we could modernize our sport. On dirt front wheel drive cars do not work unless the track is hard and slick like asphalt. Front wheel drive is what almost all cars on the street utilize today. The younger generation loves computers and how they work on cars, bringing them back to asphalt would allow them to utilize and expand their technology. On dirt today we continue to split up the pie, more series for the same cars thus dividing up the same cars and drivers into numerous little series. How are the dirt racers supposed to make the transition to asphalt without asphalt tracks?
So I ask, is it time for asphalt to make a comeback and can this comeback modernize our antiquated racing? Your thoughts?